The shocking truth about energy prices
They are even less trusted than estate agents, according to a government study in 2008: energy providers are the companies we most love to hate.
And with gas and electricity bills soaring and the firms' excuses for price hikes wearing increasingly thin, their reputation looks set to go from bad to worse.
Most of us have faced huge rises in our energy spending over the past four years. Last winter, all of the 'Big Six' power companies raised their prices between 2% and 9%. If you factor in forthcoming price increases, the average dual fuel bill will have risen by 50% since 2007.
It's not surprising that consumers are asking whether the reasons they're given for price increases really add up. Are we being told the truth by prospective suppliers when we shop around for a better deal? And are smaller operators any better than their mammoth rivals?
NPower have introduced its 7.2% and 15.7% increases for electricity and gas respectively.
British Gas and Scottish Power both introduced higher prices in August and EDF Energy were the last of the 'Big Six' to hike prices - 5.4% for electricity and 15.4% for gas - which will come into effect in November.
Richard Hall, an energy specialist for Consumer Focus, says: "When it comes to pricing behaviour, we see a pack mentality among the major energy suppliers. Price adjustments are made not to undercut competitors but to match them."
So what's the real reason for these inflated bills? It's simple, say the energy suppliers: higher wholesale prices.
Selling us short
But many consumers believe energy firms are using global events as an excuse to rip us off.
While wholesale prices have certainly increased, energy watchdog Ofgem has recently released figures suggesting there was a difference of 27% between the amount big suppliers paid for electricity last year and the amount they charged for it. For gas, the gap was 15%.
"The recent price rises are in excess of what can be justified," says Hall. "The bigger energy firms have benefited from passing on these rises to customers."
A spokesperson for Scottish Power says: "Continuing unrest in global energy markets means future prices are volatile. We understand times are difficult for many people and we've done what we can to absorb these additional costs for as long as possible."
However, the large firms continue to report bumper profits. Last year British Gas raked in £742 million, while its parent company Centrica saw its profits mushroom to £2.4 billion. Scottish Power, meanwhile, posted core profits of £1.2 billion.
The level of public dissatisfaction with the energy industry is so great that Ofgem has been forced to talk tough.
Having investigated the gas and electricity market's complex structure and its more questionable practices, the watchdog has promised to introduce a radical overhaul. It has made a series of recommendations, in order to improve trust in the industry and open it up to greater competition. It has even threatened to involve the Competition Commission if the Big Six fail to embrace these reforms.
Ofgem wants to improve transparency so that consumers can calculate whether price increases are justified, and is calling for a vastly simplified tariff structure. "Energy tariffs are really confusing, with hundreds of different products available," agrees Scott Byrom, energy expert at moneysupermarket.com.
"Even if you hear that your provider is offering the cheapest energy prices, it's highly unlikely that you're on the best-value tariff. If you've never swapped, you're more likely to be on the most expensive energy deal, missing out on hundreds of pounds of savings."
This is more usually a feature of car insurance but it can also crop up in contents, mobile phone and pet insurance policies. An excess is the amount of money you have to pay before the insurance company starts paying out. The excess makes up the first part of a claim, so if your excess is £100 and your claim is for £500, you would pay the first £100 and the insurer the remaining £400. Many online insures let you set your own excess, but the lower the excess, the more expensive the premium will be.
Everything you own: all your assets (property, cars, investments, savings, insurance payouts, artwork, furniture etc) minus any liabilities (debts, current bills, payments still owed on assets like cars and houses, credit card balances and other outstanding loans). When you’re alive this is called your wealth; when you’re dead, it becomes your estate.